In a recent post, I shared my initial reactions to Academic Reading Circles (ARC) in our Second Language Acquisition Course. If this is your first visiting my site and you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can find the older posts describing the assignment here and my initial reactions here. In this post, I will share the results of a student survey and student feedback.
Often, as we make major and minor changes to our program, our expectations do not match those of the students we teach. In some cases, students are uninterested in an assignment or task I thought they would really enjoy. At other times, they really get into something without the coercing I expected to provide. My point is that all modifications to the curriculum need to be surveyed. If we don’t know how well our assignments engage the students and provide opportunities to learn, their true value is unknown. So, as we did with learner language tasks last year, we surveyed our students to find out how they felt about the ARC assignment.
(scale: 1- very easy, 4 – very difficult)
The purpose of this question is to establish the fact that the course readings are intimidating. We need to know this because the goal of the ARC is to make the readings more manageable. Only two of the thirty students polled said the readings appeared easy and we weren’t surprised.
We also wanted to know how many of our students had done something like a reading circle before. This result confirms the fact that we need to be extremely particular when giving instructions. Because so few of the students are new to reading circles, the chance for confusion and failure at the start is high and this needs to be avoided.
(scale: 1 – very easy, 4 – very difficult)
Again, the result here suggests that the whole process from roles to actual blog posts needs to be presented clearly. In addition, we learned that despite our efforts to make the reading more manageable, it still is considered the most difficult aspect of the ARC assignment. I don’t believe there is anything we can do about this.
This is the result we were waiting for. Whether or not the assignments or readings are complex or difficult isn’t so important. What is important is knowing if the assignment resulted in a greater understanding of the course material, and it clearly has. 83% of students said the assignment resulted in a better understanding of the material. It makes perfect sense when you think about. Is anything of value easily attained?
No surprise here. The role that required the least amount of work was the most popular. This tells us which role can handle an extra responsibility (see the end of this post). The summarizer was the least popular and most difficult. This was due to the complexity of the task. Summarizing an entire reading is difficult. One thing we’re considering is having the summarizer summarize the discussion instead of the reading.
These final two questions tell us that the ARC was effective and that the students were aware of what they were doing and how the assignment helped them understand the material. We are proud of the fact that 83% of our students said that they will use reading circles in their own classes if they have the chance.
We also asked our students what they would change and how we can improve the interaction that happens online. Here are some of the common responses.
If you could change one thing about the ARC, what would you change?
- make it mandatory for everyone to respond to someone else’s response to a discussion question.
- do not copy and paste from readings.
- perhaps the instructor could preview the reading at the end of the class.
- reduce the number of readings.
- discussion leader should post earlier – there should be several deadlines
One area of the ARC that we’d like to improve is the amount of interaction that happens after your initial post. Ideally, we’d like students to have an interactive discussion on the blog. Can you suggest a way to make the ARC more interactive?
- students should be responsible for their roles.
- instructor should intervene online and ask more follow up questions.
- make comments on each other’s posts compulsory
- give the team that participates the most a prize such as chocolate.
- force students to reply three times a week.
The most common issue to come up with both of these questions is participation. If students think of the ARC as an ‘assignment’, they will post as much as they need to complete the assignment. Next semester, we will add a responsibility to the discussion leader’s role. Discussion leaders will keep track of who replies to whom, and each member of the group will sign when they agree with the discussion leader’s count.
In sum, we are happy with the ARC and look forward to its future development. Though we have some minor tweaks to make, it’s clear that we’re putting students in a position to get the most out of what they read before class. Since the students are better prepared for class, they comprehend more of the lecture. As a result, they take more from the program and graduate with a greater chance of success in the classroom.